“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” -1 Thessalonians 5:18
Recently, one of my colleagues shared some postings from his gratitude journal. I was profoundly touched. In the midst of grieving the death of his wife and facing his own aging process, he found so many opportunities to give thanks to God. What a blessing.
As I think back on 2018, I see within our nation, culture and even the church, greater divisions than I have ever experienced in my life. I have also never been faced with the challenges I am facing as a leader. Resources and congregations are declining. We are faced with a major decision about the future of the church related to passages in our Book of Discipline about homosexuality. Some clergy are facing into the question of their calling and some congregations have lost their missional identity and their purpose.
Yet, I have had one of the best years of my life, particularly as a leader in the church.
Personally, Beverly and I celebrated the birth of our third grandchild, Jakob. Our children are engaged deeply in meaningful and purposeful careers that are transforming lives. We celebrated 40 years of marriage. We met in high school and have continued a commitment and love to one another. This is not to say for us or our family that life is easy, or that we do not face challenges on a daily basis, but it is to say that God has blessed us, and that we are grateful.
I am also deeply proud of all that you are doing for God and what God is accomplishing through GNJ. Here are a few things that I saw Christ Jesus at work through you during 2018.
- We launched the Miracles Everywhere Campaign in September which already has raised in gifts and pledges $3.5 million toward a $5.2 million dollar goal. That’s a miracle!
- After resting our camping ministry, we restarted it in 2018 with three successful weeks of camping in the summer.
- We have continued to diversify GNJ, and today there are nine languages spoken on a Sunday morning, more than 100 cross-racial appointments and 150 multicultural congregations.
- We started 13 new faith communities, and over the last five years, we started 86 which is the third highest by a conference in our denomination.
- We now have 15 Hope Centers toward our 100 Hope Center goal. Our newest Hope Center, The Makers Place in Trenton, collected 87,000 diapers to give as birthday gifts to children who reach their first birthday. Trenton has one of the highest infant mortalities in our nation.
- In January, we reached a new high of shared ministry participation (for 2017) at 88% — the highest since GNJ’s existence, 88% giving rate. We anticipate surpassing that for 2018.
- We are attracting more and younger clergy through our recruitment efforts and Mosaic ministry.
- We started two new campus ministries on the Rutgers and Drew campuses.
- We received an UMCOR grant and organized volunteers to help senior citizens in Brick rebuild after flooding.
- We established new partnerships with Puerto Rico and Tanzania and held a pastor’s school in Tanzania.
- We sent dozens of mission teams from our congregations to help with disaster recovery in Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and the U.S. states that suffered hurricane damage.
In 2019, there is also much to look forward to:
- We will expand camping to four weeks in 2019 with a new fine arts camp.
- We will hold a second GNJ Pastor School with United Methodists in Tanzania.
- We plan to add to our campus ministry by adding two new college ministries.
- We will feed tens of thousands of people through programs led by our congregations.
- We will care for thousands of children in preschools, aftercare and other programs in our congregations.
- We will make more than 975 new disciples through our congregations, and
- We will grow in worship attendance with as many as 200 of our congregations growing.
In the midst of the challenges, I give thanks for all God is doing in and through you. We have great days ahead as we give thanks, trust God, connect with the people in our communities and work to God.
Thank you for your commitment and dedication to God and The United Methodist Church.
Keep the faith!